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Esau (Hebrew עֵשָׂו, Standard Hebrew ʿEsav, Tiberian Hebrew ʿĒśāw) is the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the older twin brother of Jacob in the biblical Book of Genesis, whom in the Torah, was tricked by Jacob into giving up his birthright (leadership of Israel) for a "mess of pottage" (meal of lentils). (Genesis 25:29-34). From this, "Esau" in western religions has metaphorically stood for anyone who is tricked into a worthless bargain.

The root of the name in Hebrew is derived from the word asuy denoting "completion", made and complete, since Esau was born hairy and very strong, being "completed" and not infantile. Esau has also been called Edom, which is also the name of the land where his descendents settled (Gen 36:16). The Book of Genesis connects this name with the red stew for which Esau exchanged his birthright (Gen 25:27-34). Edom means 'red'.

Symbolic of struggle

The Biblical narrative describes Jacob and Esau in the womb of their mother Rebekah as being locked in constant struggle and combat. The narrative continues that she could not bear the pain of her pregnancy, yet is told by God that she will give birth to two nations who will always be locked in symbiotic combat each one trying to overpower the other. Later Jacob is described as a dweller of tents and Esau is wild hunter.

According to all midrash, Esau is a very significant character in world history. Inasmuch as Jacob is considered to be the creator of the Children of Israel, it is Esau who is regarded as the forefather of Rome and the Roman Empire. The struggle between the Roman Empire and the Jews stemming from the land of Judah alternated, according to history, between co-operation and outright hate and warfare. The argument is proposed that Esau was born with red coloring in his hair and body, and the ancient rabbis have connected this with the red banner and standard favored by Rome's legions.

After Jacob tricks Esau into eschewing Isaac's blessing as leader, Esau is given the blessing that he shall "live by the sword". Some see this as another sign of Rome, famous for her unique sword made of steel that smashed its way to world hegemony and on the way massacred the descendents of Jacob/Israel.

Last updated: 08-02-2005 01:16:34
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